Iíll be honest. As much as I love my Nintendo DSi, I havenít used it in a while. Most of my commuting time has been spent rocking my iPhone for a few seconds of DoDonPachi before hopping off the train. But Nintendo has successfully reclaimed my rather shoddy attention span with the release of Mario vs Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem.
Like a number of other Nintendo puzzlers, this latest entry in the Mario vs Donkey Kong
series successfully captures you in accessible, casual gameplay whilst wrapped in a coating of familiarity that makes you all nostalgic about the original arcade version of Donkey Kong
. And in fact, the Game Boy release Donkey Kong Ď94
(anyone remember that? What a quality game).
This time around, Mario is once again in charge of a vast number of wind-up miniatures (in his imageÖ letís not ask why) that are his only hope of saving girlfriend Pauline from the cheeky monkey. The setting is an amusement park, with each of the eight worlds (plus change in the form of bonus stages) played in differently-themed areas.
The goal of each stage is to lead your army of Minis to the goal door, whilst avoiding obstacles and enemies along the way. Youíre initially given a view of the entire world (with bigger stages navigable using either the D-pad or the face buttons) to have a chance at planning your strategy. Tapping a snoozing miniature will start it up and will result in it happily trotting in one direction to the warbly tune of a classic Mario theme.
To secure safe passage, you have to build bridges from girders, activate warp pipes and rescue any other minis that might be trapped in the level - these take the form of other Mario characters such as Toad, Peach and Donkey Kong. Building things requires the right number of parts to do so - drawing a bridge costs a certain number of girder blocks, which you can earn by collecting them in as you minions wander or by removing already-established bridges.
If a Mini manages to bump into another, theyíll obediently start marching with them. Itís important to keep them together as the Lemmings-esque goal door that you have to lead them to sets a time limit between the arrival of each consecutive Mini. Generally, these stages wonít be too taxing - each is designed to be completed in the space of a few minutes, with additional bonuses like coins, ĎMí emblems and letter cards to collect to truly finish with the highest score.
As you progress youíll find yourself facing an array of different methods of level-building - conveyor belts, wooden blocks, magnetic floors, multiple doors and key-carrying Miniatures are just some of the things youíll encounter. A lot of these will be specific to a particular world youíll be playing in the main game, which keeps things fresh.
At the end of every world thereís a face-off with Donkey Kong, which is most reminiscent of the classic arcade original. With DK presiding with Pauline at the top screen, you have to navigate your Minis through obstacles on the bottom screen to lead them skywards and knock that brown beastís hide to kingdom come. He still chucks barrels at you, but has this really neat trick (except not really) where certain girder blocks can become inactive, screwing up your near-perfect run if youíre not careful. What a total git.
While youíll be done with the game quite quickly in the main story mode, it's packed with all the traditional hallmarks of a refined Nintendo puzzler. Even down to the unlockable Plus mode and Special stages which extend the main game twofold. You won't appreciate it right away, but the fact that you'll still be coming back to it after your last five-minute go is proof enough of its classic game design.
Where the game really comes into its own is in its Construction Zone. This is your typical level creation mode by day, and a great way to casually extend the life of your mini-marching career by night. When you first load up the system, youíre given a short tutorial to pass before youíre able to make any custom stages - how to add ground blocks and girders, for example. Once youíve completed some half-finished levels youíre able to build your own from scratch.
Itís easier to get to grips with this than it is in other handheld games. The top screen acts as a mini-map, and the touch screen is your workflow, with a menu that toggles level pieces, mini characters, backgrounds, erasing and moving objects and a play test feature. Youíre able to create levels in a few different sizes, and when youíre done it can be uploaded to the Nintendo WiFi Connection.
So far, so expected. Dig a little deeper and youíll get access to a regular Challenges feature, which reminds me a lot of the Check Mii Out Channel on the Wii. Every so often, youíre asked by Nintendo to create levels with certain themes and conditions in mind, and the best ones will winÖ Iím not sure actually. Virtual Nintendo gratitude, I suppose. You can upload your entry, browse through creations made by others (which are all posted anonymously, naturally) and vote for each submission once youíve downloaded and played it.
It seems that Nintendo has figured out how to make the whole process of sharing and discovering levels as simple as possible - which is a good thing. Too many times have I failed to bother with DS level creator/sharers because itís just too much hassle. Here you connect to WiFi, hit Get Public Levels (or you can choose to download fresh new Nintendo-made stages) and filter by popularity and stage type. If you like the author of a stage, you can even click on a Ďfollowí button that adds him to your list of favourites.
Mario vs Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem is a fine little puzzle game, a perfect blend of strategy that can entertain for three minutes and have you returning for a lot longer. Itís not the most inspiring game in the world, and youíll be done with the main levels in a short space of time - but the bonus options and added extras will keep you coming back for more. Itís packed with that quality Nintendo charm and the online functionality does a great job. Recommended.
SPOnG Score: 86%